“Blood Diamond” is an issue movie dressed up like a bloody action film. Or is it vice versa? In the tradition of director Edward Zwick’s other social statement films “Glory” and “The Last Samurai,” this one also revolves around a privileged group of people taking advantage of a less fortunate group. In this case, it is Western governments and smugglers who pay big money for diamonds that are mined with forced labor and enforced with brutal violence during a civil war in 1999 Sierra Leone.
The money made from this illegal and immoral practice funnels into buying arms for murderous rebels so they can continue to slaughter innocent Africans, and Hollywood wants you to know that you are complicit. Coming from an industry that trots out more diamonds on Oscar night than a Vegas poker dealer, this may be difficult for some to swallow.
|They who run faster than bullets|
Nevertheless, it is an illuminating movie—partly because it exposes a problem that wasn’t exactly making headlines, and partly because its screenplay is a perfect example of trying to cover too much ground. “Blood Diamond” is bursting at the seams, as it tries to include the entire spectrum of “conflict diamond”-related stories all in one plodding two-and-a-half hour movie. One strong, believable story would have been better than multiple plot threads that continue to fall flat.
The story that works is about a native fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), whose family is split up after a raid on his village. Children and men alike spray the victims with machine guns, killing women and children at will. Hounsou is a powerful actor and needs few words to convey the tragedy that has befallen him as his family is taken and he forced to work in a mining camp.
Charles Leavitt’s overreaching script follows the Zwick template, featuring a selfish white man who learns to respect the culture he derides. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) smuggles diamonds for a huge international conglomerate. When he hears of an enormous rock that Solomon found and buried close to the camp he escaped from, the two set off together to find it. The diamond is Danny’s ticket out of this vicious circle of violence, and Solomon has no choice but to believe his new companion will hold up his end of the bargain and help him find his family.
It is a testament to DiCaprio and Hounsou’s skill that they are able to craft characters we care about, because the script gives them little more to do than outrun a never-ending hail of bullets. The action scenes are not particularly engaging or well staged, but instead concentrate on the amount of innocent people getting mowed down. DiCaprio’s funky South African accent becomes less distracting after a while and the actor turns in his second supercharged performance of the year, following his arresting turn in “The Departed.”
Hounsou is a powerful and expressive presence, especially when he has little to say. His particular dialogue mostly rings true, but even the African is an uncomfortable mouthpiece for politics sometimes. Solomon’s encounter with another native countryman about oil-hungry Western countries rings particularly false. In the middle of the chaos that surrounds them, their unlikely conversation sounds like it is coming from the screenwriter and not the characters.
|They were “good” that day.|
Speaking of mouthpieces, Jennifer Connelly has the unfortunate role of American journalist Maddy Bowen, who must be really good at her job (or just really hot), because she gets Danny to reveal his status as a smuggler almost immediately. She stops the film dead in its tracks so to explain the complexities of diamond mining in Africa, as if Danny didn’t know about them already. Forcing expository dialogue down somebody’s throat is sometimes necessary, but rarely is it this obvious. When the political turns self-congratulatory, it flirts with action cliché a little too much. Take this exchange:
Maddy says, “Three out of five ex-boyfriends polled say I like to live in a constant state of crisis. Maybe I just give a shit.”
After a dramatic pause, Danny tells her, “Hey, you were good today.”
“So were you,” she replies.
WARNING: Minor spoiler ahead…
Since the white man must become noble at the end, DiCaprio gets his moment to do so. A noble black man said to Danny earlier in the movie that a “moment of love from a bad man can give meaning to a life.” But his last-minute change of heart doesn’t make any damn sense. Just moments before, his greed has the best of him in an angry tirade against his captor. What’s worse, the movie ends with more self-congratulatory applause. Literally. The only thing that was missing was for the curtain to rise for all involved to take a bow.